Ph.D. Michigan State University, 1987
I am an evolutionary ecologist whose work focuses on plant adaptation. I define evolutionary ecology as the study of the ecological meaning and consequences of biological fitness. The emphasis is jointly on organismal adaptation and the relationship of organisms and ecosystems, using a combination of theory, observation of natural pattern, and experimental manipulation. A portion of my work concerns the fundamental issues in evolutionary ecology that transcend taxonomic boundaries (e.g., optimal foraging, life histories). The majority of my research effort is devoted to contributing to the understanding of plant adaptations and their community consequences, particularly the acquisition of and competition for multiple limiting resources. Study systems include temperate old fields, forest, Bluegrass savanna, constructed wetlands, and tropical pasture.
The central question in my current research is the integration of multiple resources by plants in uptake and utilization. I view the plant as a process that transforms an array of essential abiotic resources into plant biomass, and assume that the diversity of physiological and morphological features of plants can be best understood as a balancing of those multiple resources. A particular focus is on the control of growth rate by various characters (e.g. biomass allocation, tissue nitrogen, photosynthetic rates, nutrient uptake, specific leaf area), the relative plasticities of these different characters in relation to the predicted theoretical optima (optimal norms of reaction), and the ecological consequences of these differences along environmental gradients (nitrogen, water, light). This approach can contribute to understanding many aspects of plant biology, species competitive abilities and distribution, characteristics of the structure and dynamics of vegetation, and the response of plants to resource perturbations such as the increase in atmospheric CO2 .
I am excited about the potential of these approaches, and others in plant evolutionary ecology, to contribute to a deepening of our knowledge of natural systems and an enlargement of our ability create a sustainable society.